The 'Need' for a Focal Point in Photography

 This image has an obvious focal point in the mountain.

This image has an obvious focal point in the mountain.

    We are constantly told, as photographers, to have a subject and focal point in an image. This is one of those fundamental rules in composition we all take on and accept during those formative first years of learning the art. It is also one of the rules you can break, if you are careful.

    A focal point can add a lot to an image. It locks the viewer in on a part of the subject you want them to keep coming back to. Even as the eye wanders through the frame it revisits this area of perceived importance again and again. Including one gives a sense of direction and purpose with the photograph making the reason why it was captured more obvious and easy to consume as a viewer.

    Making art more accessible can be good since more are able to understand. The downside is that it can make the art less complex and sophisticated in nature. If you go overboard with simplicity it can boil the image down too much and it will feel like the empty calories of a box of Oreos eaten all at once. It is great in the moment but is quickly followed by some type of overwhelming sickness.

    The idea of removing a focal point entirely is scary. There is a danger of having images that look amateurish as the point of why you took the image is not immediately obvious. The rules still apply with composition, but now it is at a more involved level and on your own terms of engagement. The focal point is more than just good light, conditions, or an obvious subject. 

 Without a focal point it allows the eye to wander the chaos in this photo in a foggy forest. You can see various components coming together to tell a story about the scene with dark broken trees in the foreground to fog and mystery to the green foliage showing signs of life on the forest floor. There is a lot going on without feeling too busy!

Without a focal point it allows the eye to wander the chaos in this photo in a foggy forest. You can see various components coming together to tell a story about the scene with dark broken trees in the foreground to fog and mystery to the green foliage showing signs of life on the forest floor. There is a lot going on without feeling too busy!

    The image as a whole is now the focal point. There is no single point that stands out or the eye relies upon to rest. It can become chaotic or a sense of harmony and balance depending on the objective and mood intended. This idea of avoiding one point of interest frees you as an artist to explore the possibilities of using the entire frame to draw interest. 

    Using this method of drawing interest through the conveying of a complete thought illustrated throughout an image is complex in nature and almost impossible to master in the field. It draws upon us as photographers to always be attentive to what the scene is trying to communicate with us in chaos, harmony, or conflict to create something compelling without focusing on a single focal point the viewer can return to. This lack of direction makes for something that cannot be fully enjoyed at a glance, but rather, takes time to soak in and appreciate as it is more than just an image of something. It is an image of something more.